Dioxins – also known as persistent organic pollutants, are highly toxic substances and are hazardous to health. They are mainly formed from toxic wastes and are present all around the world, creating a hazard that can be very dangerous. They are one of the most poisonous chemicals known to science. Here’s everything you need to know about dioxin hazards from toxic wastes.
What are dioxins?
‘Dioxin’ is a general term used to describe a group of chemicals that are highly persistent in the environment. Several hundreds of chemicals fall under this group – the most toxic of which is 2,3,7,8-tetrachloro-dibenzop-dioxin (TCDD).
Dioxins are found everywhere in the environment across the world.
The compounds collect in high concentrations in sediments and soils. High levels of dioxins exist in water, plants, and in the air. In the environment, they accumulate in the food chain. So, animals at the top of the food chain will have a higher amount of dioxins in their bodies.
Once they enter the body, they tend to remain there for a long time because of their chemical stability. Due to their omnipresence, people have some level of exposure to these toxic chemicals. The half-life of dioxins in the body is valued to be anywhere between seven and 11 years.
Dioxins are by-products of industrial processes, but that does not mean that they cannot result from natural phenomena, such as forest fires and volcanic eruptions. Burning processes like the burning of toxic wastes (such as hospital waste and solid waste) produce dioxins. Backyard burning, and also the burning of fuels like coal, oil, and wood releases dioxins into the environment. Uncontrolled incinerators are the worst culprits because of incomplete burning. Some other human activities that produce dioxins are:
Chlorine bleaching of pulp and paper.
Burning of household trash.
Production of pesticides, herbicides, and other chemical processes.
Dismantling and recycling of electronic products.
Drinking water that is contaminated with toxic chemical wastes from factories and other industrial processes can contain dioxins.
Significant dioxin contaminations in the world
In 1976, an industrial accident in Italy resulted in a cloud of toxic chemicals that included dioxins. That affected several thousands of people.
In 1999, the illegal disposal of a particular industrial oil caused all animal-based food products from some countries to be contaminated.
In 2004, dioxins were intentionally used to poison Viktor Yushchenko, President of Ukraine.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that industrialized nations report the most cases of dioxin contamination. That does not mean that other places do not have high dioxin levels; instead, it means that the standards in these places are merely unreported.
The hazards of dioxin from toxic wastes
Most populations in the world are exposed to low levels of dioxin exposure, mainly through diet. Lower levels of exposure are possible through contact with contaminated soil, air, or water. That can happen if a person:
Breathes in vapor/air containing trace amounts of dioxin.
Accidentally ingests soil that contains traces of dioxins.
Absorbs dioxins when their skin comes in contact with contaminated water, soil, or air.
Dioxins that are released into the water tend to settle into sediments. They can be swallowed by fish and other organisms or further transported.
Dioxin health hazards from toxic wastes
The 20th-century toxic wastes release high levels of human-made dioxins into the environment. As a result, all of us have some degree of dioxins in our bodies.
Studies have shown that dioxins can adversely affect a person’s health. They are known to cause reproductive problems, developmental problems, cancer, damage to the immune system, the proper functioning of hormones, and even diabetes.
High levels of dioxins in the body can lead to chloracne in a very short time. Chloracne is a terrible skin disease which causes acne-like lesions on the face and upper body. This usually happens in the event of a significant contamination event or accident. Other effects of high levels of dioxin include:
Excessive body hair
Mild liver damage
Long-term exposure to dioxins impacts the developing nervous, endocrine, and reproductive systems.
Workplace exposure to high levels of dioxin over several years can increase one’s risk of cancer.
The risk to a person’s health depends on factors like:
The level of exposure
When a person was exposed
The period of exposure
How often they were exposed.
Other problems linked to dioxin exposure include:
Birth defects or congenital disabilities
Inability to maintain pregnancy
Reduced sperm count
Immune system suppression
Ischemic heart disease
Lowered testosterone levels
Type 2 diabetes
Dioxin hazards in sensitive groups
Some groups are more vulnerable to the effects of dioxins than others. For example, a developing foetus is much more sensitive to dioxin exposure.
New-born babies who have rapidly-developing organ systems can also be more vulnerable to specific effects of dioxin.
Some people are exposed to high levels of dioxin through the food they eat (for example, those who consume a lot of fish in specific parts of the world).
Those who work in specific industries like pulp and paper industry, incineration plants, and hazardous waste sites have a higher risk of developing complications than others.
Health hazards of dioxins in animals
In animals, low levels of exposure over long periods, or high levels of exposure at sensitive times can cause developmental and reproductive problems. Chronic exposure of animals to toxins has resulted in several types of cancers.
All wastes must be segregated and removed properly to ensure they do not pose a risk.
Rubbish from offices, houses, and building sites must be cleared away thoroughly by a licenced rubbish clearance company that also offers specialised waste management services.
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